#961: Halsted

August 1st, 2018

By 65th and Halsted, by a tree-lined road that winds into Kennedy-King College, there’s a wooden cross about three, three-and-a-half feet tall.

It’s simple but sturdy. Screwed and nailed 2×4 but done by someone who has handled wood. The cross is freestanding, braced at the bottom by a four-way splay of board.

There’s a jigsawed heart about a foot radius screwed to the cross’ front. It was cut from particle board and spray painted the color of love and blood. The cross itself is untreated lumber. No paint, stain or other protections. The cross-top crackles from the elements.

Across the axis where spread the arms of Jesus, Spartacus and thousands of crucifixees no one cared to make movies about, someone wrote a name in as elegant a font as they could earn with Sharpie. Manuel Ramirez.

At 63rd, there’s another one.

This one’s name was Elliott Marshall.

61st, Brandon Young. 60th, Deantate Lejohn, although a news article about his death later tells me his last name was Littlejohn. Zachary Stoner and Ronald Crump at 58th.

I stop a woman along the route. She’s about 40, slightly heavy, slowly hoisting two cloth grocery bags laden with errands to the bus stop. I ask if she knows what the crosses are.

“Teenagers,” she said, although I later find out she was wrong. Littlejohn was 32. Elliott Marshall was 51.

Half a block south, two teen girls stand with a posterboard sign covered with marker scrawl. They’re trying to lure motorists to their school fundraiser across the street. Across the street, a group of kids sit at a folding table, laughing and being kids, but generally respectfully waiting with folded hands for people to come and buy their candy, magazines, wrapping paper or whatever the fundraiser goodies might be. A few adults monitor them, chatting themselves among the crosses of Halsted.

“Teenagers who were killed,” she clarified.

We talk a bit about the crosses. She didn’t know who put them there, although I later found out it’s a guy from Aurora who puts crosses up around the nation. A former boss wrote a column about him. He’s a Jesus guy who goes around the nation putting crosses up where people are killed. Mass-shooting sites mostly. Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Northern Illinois University. And I guess the entire neighborhood of Englewood, although Marshall was killed in Longwood Manor and Littlejohn in Chicago Lawn.

The news stories about the dead are depressing in their brevity, each person’s demise lumped together in weekend tallies. The big newspapers in town give obituaries to white people and police blotter to black. No one even tries to tell me if the dead had kids.

I find so many more articles online about the man who made the crosses than about the people they memorialize. That’s not the crossmaker’s fault.

The woman and I talk about the crosses. She comes up and shows me the top of Littlejohn’s, a bit I had missed in my inspection. Each one is marked in Sharpie with the date of death.

The crosses stop at Garfield Boulevard. They’re Englewood’s mourning, not Back of the Yards’. Even if the mourner came from outside and sometimes had the names off.

North along Halsted the skins turn white, the streets get names instead of numbers and the wealth flows through. Halsted North is for theaters, gay bars and chic dining. This end’s for memorium, grocery runs and children’s fundraisers. The same road, but one has new construction. I wonder who has drawn the link between the financial investment and the lack of violence. I wonder who has noticed that the city’s northward focus is a cause, not a symptom.

I wondered what it would be like to be one of the ignored.

The woman and I smiled at each other. She asked if I was going to ride the bus. I said no, nodding at the bike I straddled.

“I’ve got a long way to go,” I said.

See an arts center trying to revive Englewood

A drunk in the North Side snow

And for a change of pace, when professional walking was a spectator sport

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